Election 2012: A Referendum on the Middle Class

Image via iStockPhoto/kizilkayaphotos

In his boldest move since firing Billy Bulger,the former president of the Massachusetts State Senate, Mitt Romney has hired Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate. Romney, who has been struggling in the polls, unable to define himself to voters and desperate to distinguish his moderate Massachusetts record from the President’s, finally put a stake firmly in the ground — in about the year 1930.

Whether this Tea Party favorite turns out to be the kind of “game change” that Sarah Palin was, for better or worse, remains to be seen; but few people have been as unapologetic about decimating the social safety net as Congressman Paul Ryan. Overnight, the 2012 election has gone from a referendum on President Obama’s record to a referendum on the middle class – as in whether we are going to continue to have one or not.

If that sounds like hyperbole, consider this: in addition to converting Medicare into an underfunded voucher program, Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget proposals have attacked investment in Pell Grants, higher education and academic research, job training and support services, Medicaid, infrastructure spending like highways and transportation, and sought to close unspecified tax loopholes. Speculation is mostly fixated on “loopholes” like the mortgage interest deduction, and the credit employers get for providing health insurance; but one thing we do know is that tax cuts for the rich and those who derive their income through dividends and investments, as opposed to hands-on work, will not only survive, but be expanded on the backs of the rest of us.

Ryan’s so-called bold vision for America is one where average families will be forced to choose between helping their kids who can’t afford college or helping their parents who can’t afford health insurance and medical bills. Support for both birth control and special needs services, as well as the checks on health insurance industry abuses, will be slashed or eliminated outright, further squeezing families. If the mortgage interest deduction does get eliminated, the incentive toward home ownership, long considered the foundation of middle class life, will vanish as well.

Perhaps this is all part of the conservative plan for strengthening the family – forcing them all to live in crowded, multi-generational housing arrangements because no one can afford to strike out on their own. Harder to understand, however, is the outright denial of the role of education and infrastructure investment on a functioning capitalistic society. We’re not talking about subsidies for big oil or anything; those will stay. Chronic underfunding of roads, airports, security, and education means that the “Path to Prosperity” will be riddled with potholes until companies decide to move their operations to countries where land and labor are so cheap they can buy their own infrastructure.

To be fair, not all Republicans embrace this vision. Most Americans think that government does have a role in keeping society stable, that it can be smaller and more efficient, but that it should serve all people, not just the rich. Even Mitt Romney will no doubt begin to distance himself from the bleeding edges of American austerity (not showing up in Orlando today is the first clue). Sadly, Romney’s choice smacks of desperation: in struggling to articulate his own center, he has all but abandoned the rest of the country’s.

Melissa Tingley is a writer, instructional designer, and ten-year veteran of her local school board. A history and political junkie, she has been a blogger since 2006, chronicling life at her personal blog @ Home in the World.

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